Essential Golf: A passion for the Game

Justin Rose at the FedExCup

Big achievements are the milestones of a golfer’s career, beacons of a job well done. For Justin Rose, the trophy he was holding at the conclusion of the FedExCup Playoffs was a shiny signal of just how strong he performed in 2017-18.

Rose began the season with a victory in his first start—a two-stroke triumph at the World Golf Championships-HSBC Champions—and ended it as FedExCup champion following the conclusion of the TOUR Championship at East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta, Ga.

In between the start and the finish, Rose was, as they say in his native England, “there or thereabouts” a lot, rarely out of contention.

Rose won the Fort Worth Invitational to go with his victory at the WGC-HBC Champions, and had nine additional top-10 finishes. In 18 PGA TOUR events, 15 times he finished in the top 25.

Overtaking FedExCup standings leader Bryson DeChambeau at East Lake—where Rose finished T4, five strokes behind Tiger Woods—was the culmination of the 38-year-old’s strong season as he became the first Englishman and fourth international player to win the prize.

“The reason I’m standing here today as FedExCup [champion] is largely to do with the consistency with which I’ve played, a ton of top-10s,” Rose said. “Obviously had a couple of wins on the PGA TOUR as well this year, and managed to keep that going into the Playoffs with finishing the year with three top-fives. There were a lot of scenarios at play. That’s what the beauty of this format is. For me, this year it rewarded consistent golf.”

Consistency was a byword during the season for DeChambeau as well. The Californian, who turned 25 on Sept. 16, won on three occasions (the Memorial Tournament presented by Nationwide, THE NORTHERN TRUST and Dell Technologies Championship) and enjoyed six additional top-10s to lead the FedExCup standings at the start of the TOUR Championship. Rose was second in points, followed by Tony Finau, Dustin Johnson and Justin Thomas, who was seeking to become the first golfer to win back-to-back FedExCup titles.

A victory at East Lake by one of the top five would have resulted in that player winning the FedExCup, but Woods thwarted that scenario. By shooting 11-under 269, Tiger beat Billy Horschel by two strokes to win for the 80th time in his PGA TOUR career, an emotional triumph five years removed from his last victory (see page TK).

DeChambeau, who shot third-round 63s in winning both THE NORTHERN TRUST and Dell Technologies Championship to put himself in a very enviable position in the FedExCup Playoffs, started slowly at the TOUR Championship following a T19 finish at the BMW Championship. Rounds of 71-75 at East Lake put him 13 strokes behind 36-hole co-leaders Woods and Rose, making things more difficult for him and opening the door for others to win the FedExCup.

With scores of 66 and 67 on the weekend, DeChambeau rallied nicely and moved up to finish 19th, but it wasn’t enough to remain atop the FedExCup standings. On a Sunday when many eyes were on Woods to see if he could break a victory drought, Rose played just well enough to hold off Tiger, DeChambeau and other contenders to win the FedExCup.

Rose’s T4 at East Lake after a closing 73 was his third consecutive top-five finish in the Playoffs, after a second place at the Dell Technologies Championship and a playoff loss to Keegan Bradley in the BMW Championship. It was enough to earn 440 FedExCup points for a 2,260 total and win the FedExCup by 41 points over Woods, who had begun the TOUR Championship 20th in the standings. It was the narrowest margin since Bill Haas won by 11 points in 2011. DeChambeau was third, followed by Dustin Johnson and Horschel, the 2014 FedExCup champion. Rose’s previous best result in the FedExCup was fifth in 2011.

“I was trying to do my best to win this golf tournament and scoop the double jackpot,” Rose said Sunday evening at East Lake. “But far and away, being next to this [FedExCup] trophy is something I’m very, very proud of. Definitely with five, six holes to play it was pretty precarious. I was in great position around the turn, and then things got tricky out there.”

Making bogeys on Nos. 14 and 16 were costly for Rose. With two holes left, he knew he needed to birdie one of the last two holes to lock up the season-long competition. After a par on the 17th, Rose got what he needed on the par-5 18th, two-putting for a 4 after his second shot bounced through rough and on the green.

“I was kind of waiting for a break all day, waiting for a putt to drop or something good to happen and it just wasn’t really happening through the back nine,” said Rose. “So it was really nice to catch that break right at the end.”

It has been quite a journey for Rose since he turned professional in the summer of 1998 following a rousing finish in The Open Championship at Royal Birkdale as a 17-year-old amateur. He struggled badly in his early days as a pro, but stayed the course to become one of golf’s best and he arrived at East Lake No. 1 in the Official World Ranking.

Winning the FedExCup and its $10 million bonus comes after nine PGA TOUR victories and 12 on the European Tour highlighted by his 2013 U.S. Open victory at Merion Golf Club, when he became the first Englishman to win the title since Tony Jacklin in 1970. Three years later, he won a gold medal at the 2016 Summer Olympics as men’s golf returned to the Games after 112 years. Rose subsequently was awarded the distinction of being a Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (MBE), which is part of the Order of the British Empire, an order of chivalry which rewards Brits for their accomplishments to society outside of civil service.

Now, a FedExCup. “I mean, that’s PGA TOUR royalty, I guess,” Rose said when asked what it meant to have his name on the trophy with golfers like Woods, Rory McIlroy, Henrik Stenson, Vijay Singh and Jordan Spieth. “If you win the FedExCup, that’s sort of what it means. Whenever you win over the course of a season, it just gives it something extra, it gives it something special.”

This article first appeared in the PGA TOUR December 2018-May 2019 issue, which can be read here.

See also: Tiger Woods: A Dream Year